Border Crossings: Should Canada Suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement?
A refugee rights organization is arguing Ottawa should suspend its designation of the United States as a safe country for asylum-seekers as the global migrant crisis knocks on Canada’s door.
The unfolding situation—with up to 300 people arriving daily at the Quebec-New York border—is wrapped up in the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement.
“The Safe Third Country Agreement should be suspended, because if it’s suspended people will show up at the [official] border and they won’t come irregularly. Because irregularly, they’re putting their lives at risk,” said Loly Rico, president of the Canadian Council for Refugees.
“If people know there is no Safe Third Country Agreement, they will show up at the port of entry and will get in regularly to Canada.”
Under the Agreement, refugee claimants are required to request refugee protection in the first safe country they arrive in, unless they qualify for an exception.
Conservative MP Ted Falk is in favour of the Safe Third Country Agreement, but he argues Canada is in violation of the agreement’s terms by accepting refugees who cross the border illegally or irregularly.
“If you actually read the Safe Third Country Agreement, it’s very clear what should be happening,” he said.
“[Asylum-seekers] should be returned to the country of last presence. They’ve got 90 days to return them. … They’re going to have to make a refugee claim in the country where they landed. And the other country (Canada), by being party to the agreement, is supposed to respect that. I think right now we’re in violation of the agreement by not respecting the terms.”
Falk represents the Manitoba riding of Provencher, where thousands of Somali refugees have been crossing into Canada from the United States following President Donald Trump’s first attempt at banning travel from seven Muslim majority nations.
He is proposing RCMP officers drive anyone crossing irregularly to official border points of entry instead of to the nearest Canadian Border Security Agency (CBSA) port of entry or Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) office, as is the case now.
“Certainly the spirit of the agreement is that we’re not going to allow refugee claimants from one country to start country-shopping in either country,” he said.
Over 1,000 Haitian refugees have so far fled the United States for Canada after learning the Trump administration is considering scrapping a program that granted Haitians temporary status following the 2010 earthquake in their homeland.
On Aug 2, the Red Cross and local health authorities opened Montreal’s Olympic Stadium to asylum-seekers who had crossed the border irregularly and were brought north by bus.
However, the giant Olympic Stadium is already overcrowded, causing another temporary shelter in the city to open on Aug. 8, and Montreal city councillors are asking the Quebec government for more temporary housing.
On Aug. 9, about 100 Canadian soldiers arrived at the Quebec-U.S. border to help authorities cope with the influx of asylum-seekers.
The practice of police taking the border crossers to immigration offices is what Falk takes issue with. He maintains that it puts Canada offside when it comes to the Safe Third Country Agreement.
“If they’re not coming through a port of entry, they’re illegal migrants,” he said.
“We can stop them at the border and direct them to a port of entry and if they don’t have the proper documentation they’ll be refused entry. I think that’s fair, those are the laws we have in place, those are the expectations we have as Canadians—when they want to come into our country that they come with proper documentation.”
A question of safety
At the heart of the issue is whether the United States is a safe country for refugees and if Canada should treat people claiming refugee status as illegal immigrants.
Falk said he believes the United States is a safe country for asylum-seekers.
Immigration Canada told The Epoch Times it also considers America safe for refugees, but is monitoring the situation.
“Canada has carefully analyzed recent developments in the United States and determined that the United States remains a safe country for asylum claimants to seek protection there. The department will monitor conditions to ensure the United States continues to meet the requirements for safe third country designation,” Immigration Canada said in an email.
When asked what her message was to Canadians who may feel uneasy about asylum-seekers crossing the border irregularly, Rico pointed to the many security checks that are in place.
“The majority of refugees that come to Canada go through a very exhaustive security check. If they are crossing irregularly, the majority of them, they cross and they show up to the police,” she said.
“What they want is to come regularly. They want to be recognized as a refugee here in Canada. They are not criminals and they are not jumping the queue.”
Immigration Canada said in a statement that those who have crossed irregularly undergo “biographic and biometric” screenings like fingerprinting for security threats, health checks, and claims processing.
“Foreign nationals who are not intercepted by law enforcement often make their own way to the nearest IRCC or CBSA office and make a claim for refugee protection,” the statement said.
Will Koblensky is a freelance reporter based in Toronto with a background in financial, political, and local news.